A soundtrack can make or break a movie. There are some iconic films out there with equally iconic soundtracks, and in some cases, a soundtrack can even outlive the film it’s attached to (looking at you, Judgment Night). This was the hope with The Retaliators, that it would attract an audience based on its soundtrack and have them stick around for the thrills and kills.
The film is directed by a trio consisting of Samuel Gonzalez Jr. (Railway Spine), Bridget Smith (Sno Babies) and Michael Lombardi (who also stars as the lead), with a script by first-time screenwriters Darren and Jeff Allen Geare, apparently based on a real-life event that happened to their younger sister. The revenge thriller was produced by Better Noise Movies, a cinematic off-shoot to the rock record label Better Noise Music.
“[A Preacher] is forced to drop the Jesus boy act to become a weapon-wielding badass.”
Small-town pastor John Bishop (Michael Lombardi, Rescue Me) lives a simple life with his two daughters. He tries his best to be a shining example to his children, as demonstrated in a scene where he turns the other cheek when confronted by a rude shopper at the market (an unexpected cameo from Brian O’Halloran of Clerks fame). But below the surface of this idyllic and god-fearing town lurks a criminal underground, where rival gangs regularly double-cross each other over drug deals.
One night, Bishop allows his teenage daughter Sarah to borrow his car to go to a Christmas party, on the condition that she fills up the tank. While at the gas station, Sarah witnesses an abduction and tries to flee in her car. But the suspect, a dangerous drug dealer named Ram Kady (Joseph Gatt, Game of Thrones), runs her off the road and kills her.
Bishop is beside himself with grief in the aftermath of the tragedy, until the detective overseeing the case, Jed (Marc Menchaca, Ozark), comes to Bishop with an unusual proposal. Years ago, Jed’s police work led to the arrest and conviction of notorious serial killer Quinn Brady (Papa Roach frontman Jacoby Shaddix), who was then released from prison six years later under a new law passed by the governor. Quinn went immediately from prison to Jed’s home, where he viciously murdered his pregnant wife. Having lost faith in the justice system, Jed tracked Quinn down and made him pay for his sins.
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Now, Jed wants to present Bishop with the same opportunity. Jed was able to track down Ram Kady, and locked him up at a remote location. He tells Bishop is free to torture his daughter’s killer as much as he likes, short of killing him, as a means of healing. Being a man of God, Bishop is torn between his desire to avenge his daughter and his oath to forgive even the most heinous of crimes. But he’s about to learn that by upholding a heavenly life, he’s about to unleash hell upon the small town.
“The story shifts tone in the third act, switching from a dark thriller to a full-on horror flick with zombie-like baddies running amok.”
As I mentioned above, the major selling point of The Retaliators is its soundtrack. My first exposure to its existence was seeing ads for it at the end of music videos. The soundtrack is filled with the best songs Better Noise has to offer, along with an original theme song “21 Bullets,” written by Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe, with vocals from members of Asking Alexandria, From Ashes To New and Ice Nine Kills. I feel very conflicted about the soundtrack because, in the past, I’ve stated my love for when rock and horror crossover, but in this case, I’m personally not a fan of the majority of the artists on Better Noise and I know I’m not the only one.
I found the mainstream alternative rock sound of the bands didn’t match the dark vibe intended for the film, and the high-pitched melodies of some of the songs completely ruined some of the scenes. The only exception being “Wolf Totem” by the Mongolian metal band The Hu. I might be biased here since I think The Hu are awesome, but I think their use of traditional stringed instruments over pounding drums created a foreboding cinematic atmosphere that was desperately needed for this film.
The movie comes off as a promotional stunt of the Better Noise’s roster. Without the financing of the label, this movie simply wouldn’t exist. Musicians represented by the label are cast in certain roles, such as Jacoby Shaddix as a serial killer, or the members of Five Finger Death Punch as a gang of bikers. Other cameos include members of Bad Wolves and The Hu, as well as Tommy Lee of Mötley Crüe, appropriately as the strip club DJ.
Casting musicians in the place of actors is a dangerous game, and a movie can easily fall apart thanks to a mediocre performance from a musician with little to no acting experience (looking at you, Live Freaky! Die Freaky!). But since casting is mostly based on looks, their tattoos do most of the acting for them, communicating to the viewer that these are some pretty bad dudes (just don’t listen to their music, because that will easily shatter their facade). Mercifully, real actors like Marc Menchaca and Joseph Gatt play their given roles well and move the plot along.
“Although the film’s low budget shows up in some kills, I still appreciated the use of gooey in-camera practical effects.”
The story shifts tone in the third act, switching from a dark thriller to a full-on horror flick with zombie-like baddies running amok. Bishop is forced to drop the Jesus boy act to become a weapon-wielding badass. Having found his new heroic persona, he can now face his daughter’s killer in a final epic showdown, punched up with some surprisingly good fight choreography and stunts. The gore effects are also quite decent. Although the film’s low budget shows up in some kills, I still appreciated the use of gooey in-camera practical effects.
Although I wasn’t sold on the soundtrack and some of the casting choices, The Retaliators has a good story and delivers on the violence that horror fiends such as myself crave so very much. But ultimately, The Retaliators has set a precedent and raises further questions. What if more record labels started producing independent horror films? Is there a specific record label whose roster actually reflects the action on the screen? Would they be successful in converting music fans into film fans, and vice versa? Or would the soundtracks distract from the storytelling? I guess we’ll find out soon…
“What if more record labels started producing independent horror films?“
The Retaliators hits worldwide theatres on September 14, 2022. Let us know which record label you would like to produce a horror movie over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Heck, follow Nightmare on Film Street on TikTok for more horror movie recommendations while you’re at it.
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